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Plaintiff and Appellant, 


COUNTY OF YUBA, Defendant and 

Civ. No. C007151. 

Court of Appeal, Third District. 

Nov. 1, 1991. 

Religious organization sought 

reimbursement of taxes paid for building 
which housed collection of fine art and other 
artifacts, alleging that the building was a 
"inuseiun" and thus exempt from taxation. 
The Superior Court of Yuba County, No. 
39021, Robert Lenhard, J., found that the 
building was not a museum, and thus denied 
reimbursement, and organization appealed. 
The Court of Appeal, Raye, J., held that 
building, which housed collection of fine art 
and other artifacts, was not a "museum." 


Skjerven, Morrill, Macpherson, 
FranHin & Friel, Charles D. Chalmers, 
Formaciari, Zuckerman & McQuiller, Michael 
J. McQuiller, San Francisco, for plaintiff and 

Daniel G. Montgomery, County Counsel, 
Yuba County, David A. Sandino, Sp. County 
Counsel, for defendant and respondent. 

RAYE, Associate Justice. 

In this opinion, we consider the definition of 
"museum" as used in article Xm, section 3(d). 
[PNl] of the California Constitution and 
Revenue and Taxation Code section 202(aX2) 
[FN2] which together exempt from taxation 
property used for "museums that are free and 
open to the public." Plaintiff Fellowship of 
Friends applied for a property tax exemption 
for the years 1985-1986, 1986-1987, and 1987- 
1988 for one of its buildings as a free museum 
open to the public. Defendant County of Yuba 
denied the exemption. Plaintiff filed the 
instant action for reimbursement of the taxes 
paid for the three years in question. After a 
court trial, judgment i was entered for 

defendant. Findii^ the trial court properly 
applied the constitutional exemption, we shall 

FNl. All references to article XTTT pertain 
to California Constitution, article XIII, 
section designated, unless otherwise 

FN2. All statutory references are to the 

Revenue and Taxation Code unless 
otherwise indicated. 


Plaintiff Fellowship of Friends, a religious 
organization with centers around the world, is 
exempt from state income tax under Revenue 
and Taxation Code section 23701d. Plaintiff 
owns approximately 1,400 acres of property 
known as "Renaissance" in Yuba County near 
the town of Dobbins, about 30 miles from 
Marysville. As part of its beliefs, the 
organization collects fine art and other 
artifacts to preserve them for future 
generations and to change the viewer's 
emotional and spiritual state. This collection, 
the artistic value of which is undisputed, is 
housed on the Yuba County property in a 
building known as the Goethe Academy. 

In 1983 plaintiff decided to open the 
collection to the public. The Academy was 
thereafter opened to the public on Mondays 
and Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with no 
admission charged. Initially, because of 
security concerns and limited personnel, 
plaintiff required visitors to make 
appointments in order to visit the Academy 
during open hours, although staff attempted to 
accommodate drop-in visitors. Plaintiff 
abandoned this "appointments only" policy in 

The Academy is a 5600 square foot building. 
The art objects were displayed in designated 
rooms on the first floor. These rooms, 
comprising approximately 60% of the total 
floor space, were not segregated from the rest 
of the academy. Robert Burton, the founder of 
the Fellowship of Friends, resided in a portion 
of the Academy, although business travel 
caused him to be out of town at least half of 
the time. The rooms he frequently used as his 
living area were not part of the tour for 
museum visitors. The basement area also 
accommodated several other people who 
stayed on the premises for indefinite periods of 
time and assisted in the maintenance and 
security of the property. While the Academy 
was closed to the general public, except in 
connection with the display of art works, 

many other Fellowship activities took place 
there and on the groimds, including group 
dinners, lect\u-es, concerts, music recitals and 

Plaintiff advertised the art display in the 
Yuba-Sutter Arts Council newsletter, a 
quarterly publication, since 1985. Plaintiff 
prepared a video of the "museum" in 1985. 
Two articles, one about the museum and 
another on specific works of art at the 
Academy were published in 1985 and 1986 in 
Apollo magazine, an international art 
magazine. Since 1985 the plaintiffs placed a 
listing in the Yellow Pages under "museums," 
and, at the time of the trial, plaintiff had 
begun recently to advertise weekly in the 
Marysville t Appeal-Democrat. No signs 

directed the public to the museimi, t and 

no signs were placed on the buildii^g itself to 
identify it as a museum until approximately 
the summer of 1987. 

Records presented to the trial court indicate 
the Academy's art display attracted 
approximately 300 guests per year for the 
three years in question. The first year, almost 
60% of those visitors were Fellowship 
members. The second year, the ratio was 
approximately 20% members to 80% non- 
members. The thdrd year for which the trial 
court had records showed a ratio of about 93% 
non-members to 7% members as museum 

On or about March 15, 1985, plaintiff 
applied for a property tax exemption for the 
tax year of 1985-1986, asserting that the 
academy existed as a free public museum, 
pursuant to article XIII, section 3(d) and 
section 202(aX2). The application states the 
primary use of the property is as a public 
museum/religious academy with the 
incidental use as a parsonage. The application 
requested the exemption for about 63% of the 
building, or that portion open to the general 
public, plus 100% of the approximately 3.1 
acre parcel on which the building is located, 
which showcases the rose garden, also open to 
the public. The county denied the exemption, 
as well as subsequent exemption applications 
for the years 1986-1987 and 1987-1988. 

Plaintiff paid the taxes assessed for those 
years, and then filed a complaint for 
reimbursement of the taxes paid. After a 
court trial, the coini; held that plaintiff had 
failed to establish the "predominant use" of 
the property in question was for public 
museum purposes. Plaintiff appeals from the 
judgment entered in defendant's favor. 


[1] Article Xm, sec. 3(d) of the California 
Constitution, provides: "The following are 
exempt from property taxation: ... (d) 
Property used for libraries and museums that 
are free and open to the public and property 
used exclusively for public schools, community 
colleges, state colleges, and state 
universities." (Cal. Const., art. XHI, § 3(d).) 
[FN31 This provision is codified in section 
202(aX2). [FN4] The constitutional 

provision is self-executing and no legislative 
action is necessary to trigger its application. 
(J. Paul Getty Museum v. County of Los 
Angeles (1983) 148 Cal.App.3d 600, 604, 195 
Cal.Rptr. 916.) We first consider the meaning 
of the term "museum" in the context of 
plaintiffs assertion that the trial court erred 
in construing the term to require exempt 
property to be used "primarily" or 
"predominantly" as a m^useum. 

FN3. The exemption for free museums 
was added to the Constitution in 1894. 
The "improvement of educational 
opportunities for the people of the State of 
California to the end that they will 
become more useful and productive 
citizens" was the stated purpose of the 
exemption. (Assembly Interim 

Committee on Revenue and Taxation, 
Taxation of Property in California, Vol. 4, 
No. 12, p. 67 (1964).) "The exemption 
depends on usage; ownership alone will 
not qualify the property for exemption." 
(California Constitution Revision 
Commission, Revenue and Taxation 
Revised Background Study 2, p. 7. (1969), 
emphasis added.) We discuss the question 
of "usage" infra. 

FN4. Revenue and Taxation Code section 


202CaX2) provides: "The exemption of the 
following property is as specified in 
sundivisions (a), (b), (d), and (h) of Section 
3 of article XIII of the Constitution, 
except as otherwise provided in 
subdivision (a) of Section 11 thereof: 

"(2) Property used for free public 

libraries and free museums." 

[2] "Words used in a statute or constitutional 
provision should be given the meaning they 
bear in ordinary use." (Lungren v. 

Deukmejian (1988) 45 CaL3d 727, 735, 248 
Cal.Rptr. 115, 755 P.2d 299.) If the language 
is clear and unambiguous, we look no further 
in discerning the provision's meaning. (Alpha 
Therapeutic Corp. v. County of Los Angeles 
(1986) 179 Cal.App.3d 265, 271, 224 Cal.Rptr. 
498.) We are also constrained by the "general 
rule [that] constitutional provisions and 
statutes granting exemption from taxation are 
strictly construed to the end that such 
concession will not be enlarged nor extended 
beyond the plain meaning of the language 
employed. [Citations omitted.]" (Honeywell 
Information Systems, Inc. v. County of 
Sonoma (1974) 44 Cal.App.3d 23, 27, 118 
Cal.Rptr. 422.) Nevertheless, even a 

strict construction must still be a fair and 
reasonable construction. (Id. at p. 28, 118 
Cal.Rptr. 422.) 

Both parties cite Webster's New Collegiate 
dictionary for the definition of museum as "an 
institution devoted to the procurement, care, 
study, and display of objects of lasting interest 
or value. " Defendant concedes that the 
Academy is a bmlding whose various uses 
included the display of artistic works, but 
asserts that during the time periods in 
question it was not "devoted" to artistic 
displays. Thus, according to defendant, 
because the property had multiple uses, most 
of which were unrelated to museum piuposes, 
the trial court properly denied plaintiffs 
exemption claim. 

Defendant's argument can be criticized as 
requiring an excessively rigid adherence to 
Webster's definitions. The term "devoted" 

does not appear in the definition of museum 
offered in other dictionaries. [FN5] ]V[oreover, 
it is ' unclear whether the Webster's 

definition is a reference to the organization 
responsible for the display, or the building 
which houses the organization. [FN6] 

FN5. E.g. Webster's New World 
Dictionary (3d.College Edition): "an 
institution, building, or room for 
preserving and exhibiting artistic, 
historical, or scientific objects."; 
Webster's Third International Dictionary 
(Unabridged): "an institution devoted to 
the procurement care, and display of 
objects of lasting interest or value ... a 
room, building, or locale where a 
collection of objects is put on exhibition" 
(emphasis added); Random House 

Dictionary of the English Language (2d 
Ed. Unabridged); "a building or place 
where works of art, scientific specimens, 
or other objects of permanent value are 
kept and displayed." But see. Funk & 
Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the 
English Language (Unabridged): "A 
building devoted to the collection and 
preservation of works of nature, art, and 
antiquity, or to the exhibition of rare and 
intricate articles in the arts, science, or 

FN6. ]VIuseum is defined as an 
"ii^titution" devoted to certain described 
purposes. The term "institution" can 
refer to either "an organization having a 
social, educational or religious purpose" 
or "the bmlding housing an organization." 
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary) 

[3] While defendant may rely too heavily on 
Webster's, its argument is nonetheless sound. 
A museum, is more than a room with paintings 
on the walls. If that were not so, most office 
building lobbies would qualify as museums. 
Every description of property by its function 
assumes that the described function is a 
primary use of the property. Thus, a clock is 
an object primarily used to display the time of 
day. That it may also be used in the lurch to 
affix nails to a wall does not make it a 
hammer. [FN7] We therefore agree with the 


trial court that in ordinary parlance a 
museum is a building whose "predominant 
purpose" is to house and display objects of 
lasting value. Property used "for a museum" 
must be used primarily to house and display 
objects of lasting value. This does not 
preclude other uses, but requires the use as a 
museum to be primary, [FN8] 

FN7. Plaintiff notes that "[w]e often 
ascribe words to things by reference to the 
thing's recognized form, irrespective of 
how it is actually used," and suggests that 
a hammer remains a hammer even if its 
principal use is as a paperweight. While 
such an ascription could be m^ade, the 
constitution clearly describes exempt 
property by its function-not its form. 
Thus, under the approach used in the 
Constitution, an object used primarily to 
hold down papers might be regarded as a 
paperweight even if it has a handle 
attached to a metal head. 

FN8. This definition comports with the 
definition of museum adopted by the State 
Board of Equalization in Regulation No. 
1586, the regulation which exempts works 
of art which are purchased as part of the 
permanent collection of a musemn or 
nonprofit corporation. Regulation 

1586(bX2), adopted in 1988, states in 
pertinent part: " 'Museum' for purposes 
of this regulation means a place 
specifically designated for display of 
artifacts or objects of art which either: (A) 
has a significant portion of its display 
space open to the public without charge 
during its normal operation hours; (B) 
has its entire display space open to the 
public without charge for at least six of its 
normal operating hours each month of 
operation; or (C) has its entire display 
space open without charge to a segment of 
the student or adult population for 
educational purposes." (Emphasis added.) 

[4] We turn then to the question of whether 
the primary use of the Academy was as a 
museiun. There is no conflict as to the 
pertinent facts and under such circumstances 
the question is one of law. (Engs Motor Truck 

Co. V. State Bd. of Equalization (1987) 189 
Cal.App.3d 1458, 1464, 235 Cal.Rptr. 117.) 
We therefore undertake an independent 
review of the trial court's decision, 

applying the constitutional provision to 
undisputed facts. 

[5][6J Exemptions from taxation are 
narrowly construed in favor of the state. 
(Alpha Therapeutic Corp. v. County of Los 
Angeles, supra, 179 Cal.App.3d at p. 

270, 224 Cal.Rptr. 498; Honeywell 

Information Systems, Inc. v. County of 
Sonoma, supra, 44 Cal.App.3d at p. 27, 118 
Cal.Rptr. 422.) The taxpayer has the burden 
of showing it clearly comes within the 
exemption. (Alpha Therapeutic Corp. v. 
County of Los Angeles, supra, 179 Cal.App.3d 
at p. 270, 224 Cal.Rptr. 498; Campbell 
Industries v. State Bd. of Equalization (1985) 
167 Cal.App.3d 863, 870, 213 Cal.Rptr. 533.) 
Did plaintiff meet its burden? The trial court 
thought not. We concur. 

[7] In concluding that the Academy was not 
a museum, because the predominant use of the 
property was not to collect and display art, the 
trial court was impressed by the many other 
uses of the property. The "museum" portion of 
the building was confined to the middle of the 
first floor and was not segregated from the 
rest of the Academy. The remainder of the 
Academy was used for a variety of purposes. 
It served as a residence for the founder and 
leader of the Fellowship, living quarters for 
other members, and a place for dinners, 
conferences, lectures, weddings and concerts. 
All of these uses predated the establishment of 
the museum, and continued thereafter. 
Accommodations were made to insiue that the 
non-museum uses did not interfere with the 
museum. It appears, however, that little 
accommodation was necessary because of the 
museum's limited horns and patronage. 
Dru^ing the first year for which an exemption 
was claimed, the museum was open to the 
public two days a week by appointment only. 
During the second and third years, the 
appointment only policy was discontinued, but 
the museum remain closed to the public five 
days out of the week. 


Contrary to plaintijEf s suggestion, the coiirt 
did not hold that the use of the Academy for 
other purposes precluded award of the 
exemption. Nor did the court appear to view 
the other uses as interfering with its use as a 
museum. The court acknowledged that 
miiltiple uses were permissible. The issue is 
whether the Academy's use as a museum was 
its principal use. Evidence regarding the 
other uses was probative on this issue. 
Evidence of plaintiffs appointment policy, the 
isolated location of the Academy, the lack of 
publicity and the museum's hours of operation 
are also relevant in determining the extent to 
which the property was used as a m-useum. 
All such evidence suggested a limited use of 
the property as a place to store and display the 
art housed there. 

The trial court concluded plaintiff not only 
failed to establish the property was used 
principally as a museum. "[PJlaintiff also 
failed to establish that the property was used 
even 'significantly' or 'substantially' as a 
museum." On appeal, plaintiff insists the 
court's conclusion is premised on another 
definitional error: the trial court viewed a 
museum solely as a place where art objects are 
exhibited and ignored the function of a 
museum, as a collector and repository of art for 
future generations. Plaintiff is mistaken. 

[8][9] The court noted that "[t]he 

museum portion of the Goethe Academy 
contained many examples of high quality 
artwork, books and furnishings...." and 
acknowledged that a "true m.useum" both 
"house[s]" and "display[s]" works of art, and 
other items of excellence. That it chose to 
focus on the "display" function reflected two 
realities. First, the quality and value of the 
artwork was undisputed, and the consequent 
value of preserving such work for fiiture 
generations could be assumed. There was no 
need to dwell on that fact. Second, as between 
the fimction of a museum as a repository and 
its display function, clearly the latter is of 
paramount importance for purposes of the 
exemption. The purpose of the exemption was 
to encourage the display of art and other items 
of value to the public. That purpose is not 
served by granting tax exemptions to 

warehouses where art is stored, even if such 
buildings are "open to the public" and no 
admission is charged and notwithstanding 
) the public benefit accruing from the 
preservation of the building's contents. A 
museum must function both as a repository of 
art or other items of lasting value, and as a 
place where such items are displayed. 

We conclude that the trial coixrt correctly 
determined plaintiff failed to establish the 
property in question was "used for a ... 
museum" within the meaning of the 
Constitution. Given this conclusion we need 
not consider the closely related question of 
whether the property was "open to the public." 

The judgment is affirmed. 

PUGLIA, P.J., and DAVIS, J., concm^